Jan 19, 2021 - Health

Demand for coronavirus vaccines is outstripping supply

Illustration of a syringe surrounded by service bells.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that nearly half of the U.S. population could be eligible for coronavirus vaccines, America is facing the problem experts thought we’d have all along: demand for the vaccine is outstripping supply.

Why it matters: The Trump administration’s call for states to open up vaccine access to all Americans 65 and older and adults with pre-existing conditions may have helped massage out some bottlenecks in the distribution process, but it’s also led to a different kind of chaos.

The big picture: The U.S. has still only administered about 14.7 million shots, per Bloomberg, falling well short of the 20 million doses expected by the end of December. Nearly half of the distributed doses have been given.

  • Vaccine providers were adhering too rigidly to prioritization guidelines, experts said, prompting the administration to issue its new guidance.
  • But the process has also struggled with the complicated logistics of a massive vaccine distribution program, and making more people eligible for the shots doesn’t solve issues like a shortage of vaccinators.

What’s happening: We’ve known all along that vaccines could only be manufactured, distributed and administered at a limited pace. We’re now seeing those limitations play out in real time.

  • Americans eligible for the vaccine can’t get appointments, as all available slots fill up almost immediately after they open up.
  • In some places, where vaccines are administered on a first-come-first-served basis, people have camped out in line for hours — or even overnight — trying to get a shot.
  • New York’s website said last week that all vaccine appointments are booked for the next 14 weeks. Although 7 million New Yorkers are eligible, the state is only receiving 300,000 vaccine doses a week from the federal government.

The shift in federal guidance was announced along with the Trump administration’s decision to stop withholding second vaccine doses and instead distribute all available shots to states.

  • But the administration had already begun doing that, the Washington Post reported, meaning that there’s no additional reserve of vaccine doses to send out.

The bottom line: Vaccine supply was always going to be our biggest problem over the next few months. What we underestimated was the logistical challenges that have played out over the last few weeks.

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